As I reach 30, I realise I have spent most of 2016 wishing I could be back in 2014. That’s not to say I’ve not had pleasant moments, or that I can’t enjoy myself, or even that events in 2015 and 2016 haven’t given me individual moments of joy. I don’t think I realised how tough I found the first half of the year, and only upon reflection I realised the concept of happiness felt to me like a moment of distraction, a temporary polyfilla, a state of mind that I had to travel to rather than one I occupied by default. It had been almost two years where I could lay in bed, alone with my thoughts, and feel contented.
The beginning: 2016 started with a move to Tooting, probably the official fly tipping capital of London. A month ago somebody dumped a child’s bike outside our house. Our flat, a structurally unloved, converted terraced house complete with walls so paper thin I wake up listening each morning to BBC London from my neighbor’s radio. Tooting, Balham’s ugly little brother, its patron saint the flagship branch of Chicken Cottage. A place only a private landlord could love. I pay £775 (exc bills) a month to live in Tooting.
The darkness of Winter did not help, with a spartan allocation of street lights ensuring I wouldn’t see the chicken bones crunching underneath my feet. When the cold weather receded, I did discover plenty of good things in the area: The Kitchen Table, Pedal Back Cafe and The Wheatsheaf are all worth singling out.
In April I ran the London Marathon, which was one of those tiresome Life Goals you pick up when you’re getting A Bit Old, though even at my most cynical I could not describe the experience as anything other than fantastic. I have told everybody I know about running the marathon, multiple times, and I have no intention of stopping. Perhaps it is trite, but when you’ve got to spend at least an hour of your life fighting your brain’s most desperate attempts to stick on the brakes and locate the nearest pie, well, you discover a little bit about yourself. I also found that, after 4 hours and 50 minutes of running, the remaining drops of water in my body could fly out of my eyes as soon as I crossed the finish line. I got a very nice t-shirt and a medal I purposefully put in a very visible spot in my bedroom — with the intention of framing it at some point — and now I generally feel more confident and self-assured than I used to.
Focusing so solely on running throughout winter and spring covered up the fact I was, at this point, trapped within a job. The specifics don’t particularly matter, but it’s safe to say this role wasn’t the right position for me and I certainly don’t think I was the right person for that particular company. But the eventual realisation of just how utterly and inescapably wrong it all was came, surprisingly, out of nowhere. I took a week off work, sat about in my pants and ate an awful lot of Papa John’s pizza while playing through GTA V. I had absolutely no idea how much damage work was doing to me until one day I did, the day before I had to go back, and the feeling was disarming. Within a few days of returning, my employer and I mutually agreed I would be leaving at the end of June and it was the first time in the year I could sit alone with my thoughts and feel calm. Why did I stay so long? Well, the money was excellent and the people were nice.
I’m certainly not saying if you’re feeling crap then packing in your job will help sort it out, although for most people it’s probably not a bad shout. For me it was, essentially, the realisation that I had simply lost control: I had moved to Tooting because my old landlord in Dulwich decided he wanted the flat back, my weekends were dominated by running loops around Clapham Common and my weekdays were spent in a job I wasn’t enjoying. I had spent over five months quietly losing control of my day to day — an admittedly privileged form of not having a good time, I’ll admit. The following days have been spent trying to get myself back on track, and there’s been a handful of people who have certainly gone out of their way to help. I like to think they know who they are.
A grounding force for me this year has been minimalism, as I look to declutter my possessions, thoughts and back account outgoings. The downside of all this, mind, is that my life feels increasingly transient. I have fewer physical anchors to any location, and emotionally I feel like I could just let go and drift up, up and away into the clouds. I am 30 and I have never felt as mentally estranged from my peers, who increasingly focus on their properties, relationships and careers. Of course, this makes the friends and hobbies I do have all the more vital and meaningful, but while I do my best to nurture the good things I am in constant fear of everything going away.
Right now, a lot of my vacant thoughts are spent taking stock of everything. It’s funny, but in the closing months of my twenties I rediscovered that the old lessons really are the best:
I’ve spent more time trying to open up more, to be polite, to keep my cool and listen to other people.
Money really isn’t everything, although I am deeply thankful I am in a good enough financial position to think that.
I still get nervous in social situations where I don’t know anyone, but I’m getting much better at projecting a fake confidence which helps me through most of it — practice makes perfect.
Hip flexors really are important, and mine are completely annihilated by a decade of working office jobs.
I am comfortable with being a dinosaur who prefers to read and write things longform. I should probably learn how to take a decent selfie at some point, though.
The fact I can’t grow a beard is made much better by the statistical improbability of me going bald.
Setting the alarm clock to give me twenty minutes in the morning to just sit and relax is worth the agony of crawling out of bed that little bit earlier.
Mobile phones are nice but they too easily distract me from living in the moment if I’m not careful.
I owe it to the people who care about me to look after myself.
Everyone’s probably just as lost as I am, a fact both comforting and terrifying.
30, then. I always thought I’d have it all figured out by now, yet I feel just as wayward as ever. But at least, right now, I can say I wake up in the morning and feel happy.